They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds: five poems by Adrienne Rich

For the Dead

I dreamed I called you on the telephone
to say: Be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer

The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself

I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped

or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight


For This

If I’ve reached for your lines (I have)
like letters from the dead that stir the nerves
dowsed you for a springhead
to water my thirst
dug into my compost skeletons and petals
you surely meant to catch the light:

– at work in my wormeaten wormwood – raftered
stateless underground
have I a plea?

If I’ve touched your finger
with a ravenous tongue
licked from your palm a rift of salt
if I’ve dreamt or thought you
a pack of blood fresh-drawn
hanging darkred from a hook
higher than my heart
(you who understand transfusion)
where else should I appeal?

A pilot light lies low
while the gas jets sleep
(a cat getting toed from stove
into nocturnal ice)
language uncommon and agile as truth
melts down the most intractable silence

A lighthouse keeper’s ethics:
you tend for all or none
for this you might set your furniture on fire
A this we have blundered over
as if the lamp could be shut off at will
rescue denied for some

and still a lighthouse be


From an Atlas of the Difficult World

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

My swirling wants. Your frozen lips.
The grammar turned and attacked me.
Themes, written under duress.
Emptiness of the notations.

They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds.

I want you to see this before I leave:
the experience of repetition as death
the failure of criticism to locate the pain
the poster in the bus that said:
my bleeding is under control

A red plant in a cemetary of plastic wreaths.

A last attempt: the language is a dialect called metaphor.
These images go unglossed: hair, glacier, flashlight.
When I think of a landscape I am thinking of a time.
When I talk of taking a trip I mean forever.
I could say: those mountains have a meaning
but further than that I could not say.

To do something very common, in my own way.


From Twenty-One Love Poems

IX
Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live
I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun.
It’s not my own face I see there, but other faces,
even your face at another age.
Whatever’s lost there is needed by both of us –
a watch of old gold, a water-blurred fever chart,
a key… Even the silt and pebbles of the bottom
deserve their glint of recognition. I fear this silence,
this inarticulate life. I’m waiting
for a wind that will gently open this sheeted water
for once and show me what I can do
for you, who have often made the unnameable
nameable for others, even for me.

XI
Every peak is a crater. This is the law of volcanoes,
making them eternally and visibly female.
No height without depth, without a burning core,
though our straw soles shred on the hardened lava.
I want to travel with you to every sacred mountain
smoking within like the sibyl stooped over her tripod,
I want to reach for your hand as we scale the path,
to feel you arteries glowing in my clasp,
never failing to note the small, jewel-like flower
unfamiliar to us, nameless till we rename her,
that clings to the slowly altering rock-
that detail outside ourselves that brings us to ourselves,
was here before us, knew we would come, and sees beyond us.

[The Floating Poem, Unnumbered]
Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine – tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come –
the innocence and wisdom of the placee my tongue has found there –
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth –
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave – whatever happens, this is.

XVII
No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No prison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape – recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape – recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces we had ranged within us
within us and against us, against us and within us.

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They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds: five poems by Adrienne Rich

2 thoughts on “They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds: five poems by Adrienne Rich

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